In July 2012, Marilynn and I spent five days in Portland, Oregon attending the annual Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus and Quartet Competition. I competed with the Jacksonville Big Orange Men’s Chorus (we placed 17th worldwide). Our hotel was a short walk from the competition venue at the Rose Garden Arena, but a couple of miles from downtown Portland across the Willamette River. In most cities, this separation would cause major taxi expenses, but in Portland, no problem, because of the convenient and efficient TriMet, Portland’s mass transit system.
Portland is a city of almost 600,000 residents within a metropolitan area population of 1.7 million. The large downtown area adjoins the Willamette River across from a well-maintained riverfront park (“Tom McCall Waterfront Park”), built on the right-of-way of a former express highway to provide residents and visitors green relief from the urban density of its thriving central business district. The park’s popularity is especially apparent on Saturdays when crowds flock to its open air arts and crafts market. A short walk away are the smart shops, world-class businesses and excellent restaurants and sidewalk cafes of downtown, with patronage seeming as high on weekdays as on Saturday. The variety of tall buildings are complemented by public plazas, such as Pioneer Courthouse Square, where crowds gather daily to form a public melting pot of cultural and ethnic diversity enjoying local entertainers or just relaxing to enjoy the passing scene. Engaging local residents in conversation reveals the hometown pride inspired by the obviously enjoyable quality of life in this riverfront city.
There can be little question that Portland’s vitality is based upon the efficient transit system (running at intervals of 12-15 minutes until midnight daily) featuring light rail service to the suburbs and airport, as well as modern streetcar and bus service on lower volume streets. And, much to the joyous surprise of us visitors, travel in the downtown area is FREE (fare to the airport is $2.49). The downtown is notable for its modest vehicle traffic – why drive when the transit is convenient and inexpensive. Leaders of most cities of comparable size in this country, such as our own Jacksonville, Florida (1.4 million metropolitan population) stand in awe of Portland’s economic and cultural success — success that evolved from selective government investment in, and management of, the infrastructure that provides the catalyst for expanding private enterprise. Here is a city that defies the senseless debates between public and private operations to focus on far greater mutual objectives of public-private cooperation to create a supportive environment for the welfare of all organizations and residents.